A psychic appeared to have predicted, with startling accuracy, the attempted assassination of President Reagan. Then her story began to fall apart.
Skeptics often criticize psychics for never giving specific warnings about bad events that are going to occur in the future — events such as natural disasters or shootings. It's as if the psychics, despite their self-proclaimed ability to see the future, don't know these things are going to happen.
But in 1981, immediately after the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the psychic Tamara Rand came forward and declared that several months before she had predicted the shooting would happen, and her prediction had been recorded on a TV show.
Her prediction wasn't vague. In fact, it was startlingly accurate. She had said that a fair-haired young man with the initials "J.H." would shoot Reagan sometime in late March of 1981. Fair-haired John Hinckley Jr., age 25, shot Reagan on March 30, 1981.
Footage of her amazing prediction aired on CNN, NBC, and ABC. Headlines declared that a psychic "Eerily Foresaw Reagan's Brush with Death."
It was difficult to explain away her prediction. The skeptics, it seemed, had been trumped. The reality of psychic powers had been convincingly demonstrated. Or had they?
Who Was Tamara Rand?
Tamara Rand grew up in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in psychology.
She would later say that she displayed signs of psychic ability very early in her life. At the age of 3 she predicted her grandfather's death by saying goodbye to him instead of goodnight. Later, she found some Girl Scout cookie money her mother had lost.
Around 1970, soon after college, she opened a business in Madison offering her services as a psychic, palm-reader, hypnotist, and general life counselor with an emphasis on self-help. She called this the Tamara Rand Institute (though it was sometimes referred to as the Rand Hypnosis Institute or simply the Rand Institute).
1976 ad for the Rand Institute
With her glamorous looks — people often remarked that she could have had a successful career as a model — Rand quickly achieved success, as well as a long list of devoted clients.
In the late 1970s, she moved to Los Angeles where she opened a second Tamara Rand Institute, and here her career boomed. As a "Tinseltown psychic" she soon had many celebrity clients including Bob Dylan, Liza Minnelli, Sylvester Stallone, Doc Severinsen, Dionne Warwick, and Phyllis Diller.
She began appearing regularly as a guest on talk shows and was so good at this that in 1977 she was given a chance to have her own show, The Tamara Rand Show. However, this didn't progress beyond one pilot episode. In 1980 she was made the "resident psychic" on the Toni Tennille Show. But again, this job didn't last long as the Tennille Show was cancelled after one season.
In interviews with the media, Rand portrayed herself as a new kind of professional psychic, striving to make the industry more open and honest. She said that she was trying to move the psychic business "from the back bedrooms and out from under the eyes of the holy madonnas and the hands of the quacks, and into professional surroundings."
She suggested that psychics should be licensed like doctors, or at least registered.
She also said that any psychic should be judged by their prediction record, claiming that she herself had an 85% correct record.
Rand boasted of two predictions in particular. After the actor Bob Crane (of Hogan's Heroes fame) was found murdered in 1978, Rand claimed that she had not only foreseen his death but had warned him several days before it happened that he was in terrible danger. Some media reports described Crane as Rand's boyfriend. Though, of course, Crane was married (and, as became widely known after his death, he was a sex addict with many partners).
Bob Crane with Tamara Rand
After the murder of John Lennon in December 1980, Rand also claimed she had predicted his death four weeks before it happened, during a taping of the radio program "Spaces and Places." However, the episode with her prediction apparently never aired.
So in early 1981 Rand was, at the age of 32, an extremely successful psychic, but she clearly had ambitions to achieve even more. She was waiting for the big break that would make her a nationally recognized, celebrity psychic, and she had every expectation that, with the right opportunity, this could happen.
On March 30, 1981, as President Reagan was leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., John Hinckley Jr. stepped out of a crowd of bystanders and shot him. Reagan was rushed to the hospital. Despite serious injuries, including a punctured lung, he eventually made a full recovery.
Two days later, on the night of April 1, CNN aired footage of Rand appearing to have predicted the assassination attempt.
Screenshot from the prediction footage
CNN told its viewers that the footage had been recorded at the KTNV studio in Las Vegas on January 6. Rand had been a guest on the Dick Maurice and Company talk show, hosted by journalist Dick Maurice. The episode featuring her prediction was said to have aired in mid-March.
A transcript of Rand's prediction follows:
Maurice: What about the new President of the United States, President Reagan?
Rand: Well, I feel as though he's in a crisis cycle. Only... two times in this next year. That I feel that at the end of march... perhaps the last week of March and perhaps the first week of April... that too is a crisis time.
I feel the chest area, which might imply stroke. It might imply some sort of heart attack or heart failure. I even hate to say it to be very frank with you, but then I also feel something like a thud, and in my mind, I can see a little scenario, and it came first in my dreams right after he was elected, and it had to do with a gun, and it had to do with shots all over the place, and it had to do with that thud instead of being a stroke as I initially felt, I felt it might actually be an assassination attempt or a shot to the President.
I get, like me, a little blond look [touches her hair], or a fair-haired look, and I know... I feel it's just one person if indeed it happens, and I really frankly hope I'm wrong.
Maurice: If anything should happen to the President, do you have an initial?
Rand: Well, the only thing that I could even attach to it is the name Humley and maybe Jack, or something like that.
The next morning, April 2, the footage of Rand's prediction also ran on NBC's Today show as well as ABC's Good Morning America. Newspapers throughout the United States reported her prediction as front-page news.
When talking to reporters on April 2, Rand added an interesting embellishment to the story. She claimed that she had not only foreseen the assassination attempt, but had also tried to warn Reagan by sending a messenger (her friend Susan Crosby, wife of the late Bing Crosby's son) to Washington D.C. to alert the White House. Crosby supposedly passed along the warning to an unnamed White House staffer, but it wasn't taken seriously, and Crosby returned to Los Angeles feeling "frustrated."
Rand talking to reporters in her LA office - Apr 2, 1981
The Prediction Unravels
Rand's moment of glory didn't last long. The same day (April 2) that her prediction was making headline news, her story began to fall apart.
The primary debunkers were the studio technicians at KTNV. As they watched the footage of her prediction they were, by their own description, incredulous and outraged. They immediately told their boss, KTNV General Manager Ed Quinn, that they recognized what was being aired as a scene they had taped on March 31, the day after the assassination attempt.
Furthermore, they remembered that Rand hadn't even been in the studio on January 6, as she was claiming. Instead, she had been interviewed by Maurice on January 20, on a show with several other psychics. Maurice had asked her about Reagan, but her response didn't include any details about the possibility of him being shot. As the KTNV news director later recalled, "She talked about Reagan's charisma, problems in the health area — and for providing for somebody to carry on after he's gone if something happens."
Quinn got in touch with CNN that same day and told them that the footage they were showing had been taped after the assassination attempt, not before it. In other words, it was an example of postdiction (foretelling after the event), not prediction.
Highlights of the Tamara Rand affair — uploaded to YouTube by PikaB
CNN promptly contacted Rand. During an on-air interview that night (April 2) she admitted that, yes, she had done a taping at the KTNV studio on March 31. Furthermore, she conceded that during this interview she had "re-articulated" her prediction, but she insisted this had only been done at the request of Maurice and his producer, Gary Greco, because she had "slurred and stumbled over the words" during the January 6 interview. She assured CNN that she really had predicted the shooting in January.
Rand then challenged Quinn's version of events, insisting that a different crew had been in the studio on January 6. However, Quinn disputed this. He assured CNN that the same director and audio engineer had been in the studio on January 6 & 20 and March 31.
The networks, now deeply suspicious of Rand's claim, demanded she provide them with both the January 6 footage (if it existed) and the March 31 tape, so they could be compared side-by-side. Rand assured them she would do this, but the supposed January 6 footage never materialized.
Meanwhile, the KTNV technicians had also been in contact with Associated Press reporter Paul Simon. An article by him detailing their claims ran in papers nationwide on April 3.
That weekend, Rand's situation grew worse. Maurice had initially supported her, calling Quinn's assertions "ridiculous." But over the weekend, he had a change of heart and wrote a detailed confession that appeared on the front page of the Las Vegas Sun.
His confession didn't mince words. It began:
I am sorry.
I have committed a terrible wrong. I have committed the cardinal sin of a columnist. I have perpetrated a hoax on the public and feel very much ashamed.
My interview with Tamara Rand in which she predicted the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan is a lie. Ed Quinn's statement about the actual taping taking place on March 31 is the truth.
Maurice's confession destroyed any credibility Rand might still have had with the media. Headlines now declared her prediction to be an acknowledged hoax.
Rand clearly realized that damage control was necessary on her part. So she issued a statement acknowledging some wrongdoing. She said, "I had not intended that our actions cause anyone harm, and I hereby apologize... to the public in general for such action."
But then, as if trying to regain some dignity as a psychic, she added a curious warning about the President's future: "Whatever you might think at this moment, I am not what is important here. What is important is that I continue to see dangers to the president over the next few months, both for his health and safety."
How Was The Media Fooled?
After all the dust had settled, a lot of people wondered why anyone in the media had ever taken Rand's prediction seriously, given its inherent implausibility. The answer that emerged was the familiar one of news teams rushing to get a story out quickly and skimping on fact-checking.
Just a few hours after the assassination attempt, Rand had contacted some journalists, such as Kelly Lange of KNBC in Los Angeles, telling them about her prediction. This verbal description was treated rather skeptically.
But two days later, on April 1, Rand showed up at the LA offices of CNN and NBC with the footage supposedly from January 6, and now that she had visual proof to back up her story, the networks immediately took notice. From CNN's point of view, the footage had all the right ingredients for great TV: a photogenic psychic, a startling prediction, and a tie-in with a major story currently in the news. The NBC news director described the tape as "spectacular."
CNN aired the footage a few hours after receiving it. The main fact-checking done was to contact Maurice's producer, Gary Greco, who assured them that the footage had been shot on January 6. But Greco, as later became apparent, was an accomplice in the hoax. No one thought to call the KTNV studio where the interview had been taped.
Once CNN had shown the footage, both NBC and ABC felt pressured to do likewise, fearing they would miss out on a sensational story.
Why did Rand, Maurice, and Greco perpetrate the hoax? Did they imagine they were going to get away with it? Did they think the studio technicians would never speak up? The evidence suggests that, whatever may have driven them to do it, it definitely wasn't a carefully planned-out scheme.
Dick Maurice on Good Morning America - April 1981
Maurice was subsequently most vocal about his motives. According to him, Rand had contacted him soon after the assassination attempt, gushing that she had predicted on air that the shooting would happen. Maurice said that he initially believed her since he interviewed many psychics on his show, and for all he knew she had predicted it.
However, after reviewing the tapes of the show, Maurice realized that she hadn't made any such prediction on his show, but by that time Rand had arrived at his Las Vegas home and was asking him to stage a reenactment (or "re-articulation") of the prediction as a favor for her. He acquiesced, he said, because he thought it would help her career. Maurice said that Greco also pressured him to do it, for Rand's sake.
Greco's motives are murkier. He never made a public statement about the incident. Perhaps he thought the publicity would help Maurice's show. Or perhaps he wanted to help Rand.
Rand had the clearest motive. The prediction, if true, would have made her the most famous psychic in the world.
It's possible that she undertook the entire scheme as a cynical ploy to advance her career, knowing that she had never made such a prediction.
But it's also possible — and perhaps even more probable — that Rand genuinely believed she had made such a prediction. Or, at least, she convinced herself that she had. She certainly never stopped insisting that she really had predicted the assassination attempt.
Once it became clear that there had been no January 6 interview, Rand began claiming that she had actually made the prediction at "various times" before March 30, to different people. For instance, she said that during an early March interview with Richard Cartiere, editor of the Sacramento City College student paper, she had mentioned her Reagan prediction. Journalists duly tracked down Cartiere who responded, "The only thing I included in my story was that she said Ronald reagan was not a well man, the people around him were quite aware of it, and that he would be a one-term president. The rest of it seemed to be a bad reference to possible ailments or an attack."
However, Cartiere did add, intriguingly, that in his notes from his interview with Rand he had found a reference to a "thud" to Reagan's left side, near his heart.
If Rand genuinely believed she had made the prediction, then she could have rationalized the reenactment as being not a hoax, but rather a way to help the truth emerge.
However, Rand soon began to insist that the reenactment had been Maurice and Greco's idea, not hers. She claimed that she went to Vegas to tape the reenactment at their invitation, having been told that if they couldn't find a documented tape of the original prediction, that they would insert a caption at the bottom of the reenactment identifying it as a dramatization of her past prediction.
It's said that all publicity is good publicity, but this didn't prove to be the case for Maurice and Rand. The fallout from the prediction fiasco was devastating to their careers.
Maurice was suspended from both his radio and TV shows. He offered his resignation to the Las Vegas Sun as well, for whom he wrote a column, but the editor of the Sun refused to let him go, saying it didn't seem right to kick a man when he was down.
In an interview with Tom Snyder several years later, Maurice revealed that as a result of the hoax he had "lost everything," including his house, and had contemplated suicide.
Maurice died of AIDS in 1989, at the age of 43.
As for Rand, after the publicity about the hoax had settled down, she next resurfaced in October 1981, when she filed a $10 million lawsuit against Maurice, Greco, and KTNV, alleging conspiracy to defraud, misrepresentation, slander, libel, infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision of air time or programming.
Evidently she had convinced herself that she had been the victim of the hoax, not its perpetrator.
She held a news conference to explain why she was filing the suit, and UPI news offered these details:
Miss Rand maintained she made her prediction in January. She said she agreed to tape a 'dramatization' of her prediction with Maurice after the assassination attempt.
Miss Rand said she was 'horrified' when Maurice aired the dramatization under the premise it was authentic. Asked why Maurice would decide to air the dramatization if he had the authentic videotape, Miss Rand said, 'I don't know what goes on in that man's mind.'
But she speculated Maurice may have been motivated by personal ambition.
'I was fooled by one person's overriding ambition to gain national attention,' she said.
When asked for his thoughts on Rand's lawsuit, Michael McCormick, president of WTMJ Inc, parent corporation of KTNV, said, "It's amazing. You can quote me on that. It's amazing."
It's not known what became of Rand's lawsuit. No further reports about it appeared in the media.
In fact, Rand herself then disappeared almost entirely from the public eye, apart from occasional references to the 1981 hoax. She went from being a regular feature in entertainment columns to being completely absent from them. Also gone were her appearances on talk shows. One can only assume that being associated with one of the most infamous examples of psychic fraud was not good for her career.
The only minor newspaper reference to her career after 1981 is found in a 1984 gossip column which mentioned that a production company owned by Dionne Warwick was filming "Flying Lady," a movie "based on a novel by Tamara Rand about a female Hollywood talent agent." This movie, however, never seems to have been released.
Ironically, Rand's downward career spiral confirmed a prediction she had casually made to a reporter in April 1981, as the prediction hoax was making headlines. She had said, "I think skeptics will have a heyday with me, I'm afraid."
Other Reagan Shooting Predictions
One odd bit of trivia about the Tamara Rand prediction hoax is that she wasn't the only person who claimed to have foreseen the assassination attempt. Quite a few people did, as if the shooting had been sending strong psychic ripples back in time.
For instance, Reagan's brother, Neil, reported after the shooting that he had "had a premonition." He elaborated, "Three or four weeks ago I told my wife, 'Somebody's going to take a shot at him.' I knew this was going to happen, and I've been dreading it."
Detroit psychic Mary Christie claimed that on a December 1980 radio show on WCAR-AM she had predicted that Reagan would have "some sort of problem with his lung" in 1981. However, tapes of the show were erased 30 days later, so no record of the prediction survived.
Psychic housepainter John Monti, of Quincy, Massachusetts, claimed that he had phoned New Hampshire radio station WKBR on March 4 to tell them, "I feel [Reagan] will be shot in the left side of his body after a speech in Washington. I feel it will happen by the end of March, but the president will live."
The radio station confirmed that Monti had called them and made the prediction, noting, "We consider him our resident psychic." However, apparently no tape of the call was made.
The Central Premonitions Registry (an agency in New York created for the purpose of archiving predictions) reported that on March 18, 1981 it had received a telegram from Cincinnati psychic Mildred Barton saying, "Believe something may happen to President and Mrs. Reagan connected with him wearing a black tuxedo, top hat, getting in car, then lying back across seat. If so, not dead immediately unless there's an explosion." With regard to the final phrase of her prediction about the explosion, the Registry noted that Reagan was struck by a type of explosive bullet that didn't actually explode.
And finally, Noreen Ranier of Barboursville, Virginia claimed to have a tape of a seance performed in her house in January 1981, during which she had said of Reagan, "He will be shot . . . shoulder . . . chest area . . . 81 . . . He'll live."